The Meta description tag is used by the search engines to show a snippet in the search result pages, in case a page of your site appears in the SERP’s. Ideally, a meta description tag should tell the user what the page is all about. It’s a concise summary of your page’s content and most of the search engines show only the first 160 characters of the meta description, when displaying the search results.
Some Good practices with Meta description Tags:
Meta description tag is an important factor when you consider the SEO of the pages of your site. Here are a few good practices with Meta description tags:
1. Always include your primary keywords in the meta description tag. Keywords in meta description tags which match with the words used in the search, appear bolded.
2. Do not spam the meta description tags only with keywords. The description tag should contain sentences and not words in any random order. Write with a natural rhythm and you will be fine.
3. Do not dilute the value of your primary keywords by using stop words like You, me etc. Put your targeted keywords upfront.
4. When the Title tag can’t tell the whole story, the meta description will catch the searcher’s eye. Use synonyms, exact phrases – always helps for long tail searches.
5. Write compelling and informative descriptions – give the user a reason to visit your page. Think the meta description as a one liner of a TV commercial – they don’t tell everything about the product but rises a curious feeling in the user’s mind.
These are just a few tips to write effective meta descriptions for your site’s pages. However, there are situations when you can (and you should) completely ignore the meta description tag altogether.
When You Should Ignore the Meta Description Tag
Think what happens when you do not fill the meta description tag of a blog post? The search engines will index your page and when displaying it to the user, the they will pick matching words from the content of the page and fetch the meta description.
The words shown in the snippet, depends upon the search query and the description may be different for different searches. Here is an example:
Hence, you can safely ignore the meta description tag when you are targeting long tail searches. Let the search engines decide the meta description themselves and extract the relevant keywords from the body of your page.
The phenomenon is simple – the search engines will always display the keywords and surrounding phrases that the user has searched for. When you are not sure about the keywords and 160 characters is insufficient, leave the meta description tag blank.
Believe me, you will always get better results for a varied number of searches by not forcing the meta description tag to the search engines.
Thank you Rand Fishkin for the hat tip.